Earlier today, a new reader of this site posed an excellent question in a comment on my post about the Top 5 Song Editing Mistakes I hear in dance competitions and recitals. So I thought I’d share the question along with my response:
Question: Hi! I just discovered your blog & I really enjoy it. I am a ballroom dance instructor & frequently find myself editing songs for student’s routines. As an instructor, dancer & just someone who loves watching others dance, I also despise the awkward fade out ending as well as the equally as awkward endings that inevitably go with it. Like you said, such a let down for all involved. But what would you suggest if you are using a song that has a natural fade out at the end? I still really would not rather use it even though it is original to the song, but I also don’t want to end up with an abrupt cut from just trying to somehow make my own ending in the music. The song is “You Should Be Dancing” by the Bee Gees in case you’re wondering. I’ve listened to it a million times to try to find somewhere that I could make a graceful ending but to no avail. Thanks in advance for sharing your professional opinion & again I really enjoy your blog!
Answer: Thank you so much for this question! It’s quite wonderful, and is a problem that many dance instructors face. In a previous blog post, I explained how to shorten a song that already has a solid ending. But indeed, “You Should Be Dancing” and many other great songs are recorded with a fade-out ending. Fortunately, there are several ways to come up with a good solution.
1.) Sometimes, a fade out in the music is okay, especially when it’s intentional. In some instances, a choreographer wants to have the dancers exit the stage as the music fades out, on purpose.
2.) If that’s not an option for the desired choreography, the first thing I’d do is check to see if there is an alternate version of the song by another artist that has a non-fade out ending, and use that instead if it exists. (Here’s a sultry bossa nova instrumental version! HOTT!)
3.) Find a live recording by the original artist. In a live setting, it’s extremely difficult to pull off a natural sounding fade out, so usually the musicians create a different ending for live performances. The Bee Gees have indeed recorded several live versions of You Should Be Dancing, Here’s one of them, on YouTube, but there are others you can find on iTunes.
4.) See if you can find a remix version of the song, and either use the remix version, or see if you can splice the remix ending onto the original song’s ending. There are several remixes of You Should Be Dancing on iTunes. Here’s one, and here’s another.
If there is no cover version, live version, or existing remix version of the song with a non-fadeout ending, or if you have your heart really set on using the original version of the song that has the fade out ending, here are some audio editing techniques you can try yourself. Some of these methods are advanced, and that is where you would want to utilize the services of a professional music editor such as myself, or someone else, because there may be no way to make it sound natural with just a cut:
5.) See if there is a way to use a part of the intro to create the ending. In this case, the intro starts out with a basic bass/kick drum pulse with some other light percussion. With some creative editing and some reverb, this could be the route to creating a natural sounding ending.
6.) One of the reasons why it never sounds natural to “chop off” the music using a basic audio editor is that most instruments in a recording have reverb. This is the natural “echo-y” sound of a room. Even if you are not consciously aware of reverb, it exists in every room, and is one way we can tell if we are in a big room or a small room even with our eyes closed. (A big room has more, longer reverb as the sound travels away from a source, bounces off the walls, and reflects back to our ears.) When editing music, adding just the right amount of reverb (using both the correct room size and amount of reverb) can go a long way in making an audio cut sound natural and not chopped.
7.) There are various audio gimmicks that could be employed to create an ending. It’s a little gimmick-y, but you could use a loud “slam” or “thud” sound, with a healthy dose of reverb, at the ending point of the song.
One of the reasons that it’s really hard to find an ending point in this particular song is that we have the phrase “You should be” as a pick-up to the downbeat of “Dancing, yeah” repeating constantly as the song fades out. The downbeat is on the first syllable of “dancing”, so it will always sound unnatural to try to make an ending that results in “you should be dan”.
So the bottom line is that it can be done, but it requires a bit more than just a simple cut to make it sound smooth and natural.